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Apple's MacBook Air to dominate ultrabook market, says analyst

New ultrabooks hitting the market are unlikely to threaten Apple's MacBook Air, says a J.P. Morgan analyst, who's projecting sales of $7 billion next year for Apple's lightweight laptop.

Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air

Apple's MacBook Air will generate huge sales and retain its dominant market share despite the growing onslaught of rival ultrabooks--at least for now, says a new report from J.P. Morgan.

As other vendors try to mimic Apple's model by introducing their own lightweight laptops, the ultrabook field stands to get increasingly crowded. Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, and other major players have all been hitting this potentially lucrative new market.

But cost has been an issue. Most ultrabooks have been priced above $1,000 and only a few around $900. But that's not quite low enough to make a dent in the MacBook Air, analyst Mark Moskowitz said.

"Ultrabooks are not a competitive threat, yet," Moskowitz said in an investor's note released today. "In general, we think that ultrabooks are highly discretionary devices, and pricing on competitive offerings must fall below $800 before posing a viable threat to Apple's MacBook Air."

The MacBook Air itself isn't exactly cheap, selling for anywhere from $999 to $1,599, depending on the model and configuration. But Moskowitz said he believes the device's features, form factor, and early launch into the ultrabook market will continue to attract Apple enthusiasts and other users.

"In contrast, we think that the first round of ultrabook offerings lacks the right blend of features and attractive price points to grab market share from Apple," the analyst added.

In previous reports. J.P. Morgan had pegged the MacBook Air as potentially generating sales of $2 billion to $3 billion. But in light of the laptop's continued momentum, the firm is now expecting sales as high as $7 billion over the next 12 months, or around 1.6 million units each quarter.

If the numbers do reach that high, Apple will have China to thank for an increasing chunk of business.

Over the third quarter, sales of MacBook Air units in China grew 339 percent over the prior year's quarter, compared with just 76.5 percent for other Macs. And Apple's growing traction in the Chinese market should boost the MacBook Air's momentum even further, says Moskowitz.

For now, the U.S. and EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) regions are scooping up the greatest amount of MacBook Airs, accounting for 73.9 percent of all units sold worldwide. But emerging regions will increasingly boost their percentages.

"In our view, emerging markets have not been a big contributor to MacBook Air results thus far given the pricing premium on the product," Moskowitz noted. "However, we expect this to change as pricing on the MacBook Air decreases over time. Also, as the iPhone and iPad continue to penetrate emerging markets worldwide, we expect the Apple halo effect and Apple ecosystem to drive incremental Mac sales worldwide, including the MacBook Air."